Many faces of leadership

I’ve been doing a little warm weather reading lately (the reality is I’m trying to catch up on the reading that had been put to the side during a busy spring).

A recent article by Marcus Buckingham, “Leadership Development in the Age of the Algorithm,” in the June Harvard Business Review, crystalized something that I always knew: individual leaders bring different strengths to their leadership style.  Buckingham’s point in the article is that we develop generic leadership programs based on what we think are the best practices in leadership, when what we should be doing is first assess each person’s leadership style and then move away from teaching leadership techniques to teaching concepts. As he says, “Leadership concepts are scalable, because a concept is easily transferable from person to person.”

This notion hits very close to home for me, because I’ve had the good fortune to have strong mentors in my career who had wonderful leadership techniques that worked very well with their leadership style. I would watch them with great admiration as they motivated individuals, or delivered bad news, or most importantly dealt with a difficult personnel issue.  I would capture these moments and file them away so that I could use them when the time came.

I was in a difficult meeting with a faculty member, and I tried one of the leadership techniques I observed from one of my mentors. It didn’t end well.  I learned a great deal about leadership from that experience, especially what Buckingham calls authenticity.  He captures what I learned in that meeting very well: “If you’re a leader, authenticity is your most precious commodity, and you’ll lose it if you attempt techniques that don’t fit your strengths.”

As leaders we are continually in the process of modeling leadership behavior for people who work with us and the other constituents we serve.  One of my take aways from Buckingham’s article is that I need to recognize the strengths of those I work with, and more importantly share with them what I see as strengths and nurture those strengths.  A second take away is understanding the difference between leadership concepts and leadership techniques.  I’ve been asked how would you handle this or why did you do that in this situation (not that I’ve got all the answers, heck, I am the best example of a leader always in the making), but now I will respond a bit differently in that I will start by having a discussion of the concept and not the technique. For example, Ken Blanchard and Marc Muchnick identify principles of leadership in The Leadership Pill; one of those is Affirmation, letting people know that what they do is important. So I would talk about that, and then explore how that colleague can utilize their strengths in responding to the situation, and how they can respond authentically.

I am confident that most leaders have already made this leap, concept versus technique, but I hadn’t quite connected the dots until reading Buckingham’s article.  It’s nice to have the opportunity reflect on some of the warm weather reading.


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